Fairbanks’ Itchy Feet: Week of September 6th, 1919

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One hundred years ago this week, Douglas Fairbanks again felt the need to tell Grace Kingsley his travel plans, which included:

a trip to New York in November, whence, after making a picture in the East, he will go to Europe, visiting England, France, Switzerland, Italy and even Sweden and Denmark and the smaller nations.

He wanted to bring along Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who had been visiting him all summer but had returned to school (there was no mention of what his ex-wife thought about it). He thought he might make some films while he was abroad, too.

This resembles his travel plans from early August, and Kingsley remembered to ask about them:

Concerning the trip to South America which Mr. Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin contemplate taking together, the two have decided to put that off until after Fairbanks’ tour abroad.

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Kathleen Clifford

He really wanted to get out of town, even though he was in the middle of casting his next film. He had chosen a leading lady, but he wasn’t ready to tell Kingsley yet (it was Kathleen Clifford, and the film was When the Clouds Roll By).

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Unlike the South America trip, he actually did go to Europe the next year and visited everywhere on his list, substituting the Netherlands and Germany for the Nordic countries. However, he had a different companion. He married Mary Pickford on March 28, 1920 and on June 12, 1920 they set off on their honeymoon, sailing to Southampton, England. British Pathe Newsreel filmed their arrival and the crowds that swarmed them:

Mobs of fans followed them wherever they went, making seeing the sights impossible, with one exception. According to Fairbanks biographer Tracey Goessel, they got a break in Germany—their films hadn’t been shown there during the war, so they weren’t noticed except in American-occupied Coblenz. But after a day without being recognized, Pickford realized she didn’t like it and said “Let’s go someplace where we are known. I’ve had enough obscurity for a lifetime.”

British Pathe caught up with them again at their last stop in Paris, and you can see that obscurity was not a problem there:

I feel claustrophobic just looking at the newsreels! They arrived back in New York on July 29th.

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Kingsley’s favorite show this week was at Grauman’s, where Mack Sennett’s Uncle Tom Without a Cabin and Love Insurance with Bryant Washburn were playing; she said, “let’s stipulate right from the outset that these two form a combination that assay more laughs to the square inch of film than any program it’s been our joy to witness in many a long day.”

She described Love Insurance as

“a sprightly and ingenious story, this, involving an English lord engaged to marry a wealthy American girl, but who is afraid of losing her, and therefore takes out insurance in Lloyd’s against such a mishap. Bryant is the boy sent to watch over the interests of the insurance company and see that the marriage comes off according to schedule. There is a mounting comic interest in the march of events—and at least two big surprises at the end! It’s these really brilliant little screen comedies which are lifting the screen above the slush and mush.”

This version is lost, so I’ll spoil the surprises: he wasn’t really a Lord, and the girl ends up with Washburn. It got remade twice more, once with Reginald Denny as The Reckless Age (1924) and once as One Night in the Tropics (1940) with Allan Jones and Abbott and Costello.

She really enjoyed the two-reeler on the program, too:

Uncle Tom Without His Cabin is the funniest kind of burlesque on barnstorming companies, and must be seen to be appreciated. It hits off the mannerisms of actors behind the scenes in a way to amuse both the profession and outsiders, and drolly satirizes the trials and tribulations of the barnstormers.

The short did so well at this theater, Sennett made an ad out of it!

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Brett Walker, in Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory, wrote that it was one of their best remembered and most popular films, and it helped make Ben Turpin a star.

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Dorothy Gish in Nobody Home

Kingsley also really enjoyed seeing Dorothy Gish in Nobody Home, which was “a fresh, brisk little comedy, about a superstitious girl who won’t make a turn in life without consulting the cards.” She gave Gish quite an unusual compliment:

Dorothy ‘s hand and feet are funny; she can get more comedy over in the crooking of a finger-tip, the twinkle of a heel, than most comediennes can throughout the playing of a whole humor feature.

Unfortunately, it’s a lost film.

 

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